The 2019 Big East men's basketball tournament reached a critical point Friday night, as four teams battled for a pair of spots in the championship game.
The top-seeded Villanova Wildcats survived a tough test against the surging Xavier Musketeers, while the nightcap featured Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (Marquette) going head-to-head with Seton Hall star Myles Powell.
Below is a look at the latest action from Madison Square Garden.
2019 Big East Tournament Semifinals (March 15)
No. 1 Villanova 71, No. 4 Xavier 67 (OT)
No. 3 Seton Hall 81, No. 2 Marquette 79
2019 Big East Tournament Final (March 16)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, 6 p.m. ET
*Full tournament information available on the Big East's official website
Villanova Wildcats 71, Xavier Musketeers 67
Fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, the Xavier Musketeers showed up ready to play against the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats.
But ultimately, Jay Wright's squad proved why it is the reigning national champion.
It was a back-and-forth battle early as neither team could create much separation.
The Musketeers found themselves trailing by three just past the midway point in the opening half when a Ryan Welage three-pointer sparked a 17-5 run.
The Wildcats did themselves no favors by committing eight first-half turnovers.
Thanks to 15 points from sophomore guard Paul Scruggs on 5-of-5 shooting, Xavier led 34-28 into the break.
Villanova quickly made it a one-possession game in the opening minutes coming out of the locker rooms. From there, it was a fight to the finish.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Scruggs was virtually unguardable this night.
He knocked down his first eight attempts, with his first miss not coming until more than seven minutes had gone by in the second half. That didn't cool him off, though.
Scruggs picked the perfect night to go off for a career-high 28 points, including four three-pointers.
Behind Scruggs' big night, the Musketeers held on to the lead for nearly the entire second half—but they couldn't finish off the upset.
A 5-1 run in the final minute of regulation, aided by a fortuitous bounce, helped the Wildcats force overtime.
Senior guard Phil Booth put up 28 points to help Villanova stay in the game all night. But when the team needed a big bucket, Jermaine Samuels was more than up for the task:
The sophomore forward finished the game with 17.
After going down 17-15 late in the first half, the Wildcats did not lead for another 29 minutes. And yet, they found a way to escape with the victory. That's what experience can do for a team.
Xavier (18-15) missed out on a golden opportunity to take its fate out of the selection committee's hands by winning the league's automatic bid. Now, the Musketeers must sweat out Selection Sunday to see if they will receive an invitation to the Big Dance.
Meanwhile, Villanova (24-9) awaits the Marquette-Seton Hall winner in the Big East championship game as it looks for its fourth tournament title in five years.
Seton Hall Pirates 81, Marquette Golden Eagles 79
It may not have been the Markus Howard-Myles Powell duel everyone had anticipated, but the semifinals showdown between Marquette and Seton Hall gave the fans at the Garden quite the show.
The Golden Eagles quickly opened up a double-digit lead, doubling up the Pirates before the first half reached a midway point. An 8-0 Seton Hall run, though, prevented Marquette from running away with the game.
Howard entered the game averaging 25.1 points per game, but he was never able to get going in this one, as he appeared to be battling a wrist injury. He missed his first 10 shots of the game, scoring just one point in the first half.
With Howard being held in check early on, Ed Morrow and the rest of the Golden Eagles stepped up:
Howard did not have a single bucket in the first half, and yet, Marquette took a three-point lead into the locker room.
It would not be until the midway point of the second half that Howard finally got a shot from the field to fall.
While Howard had an off night, Powell woke up in the second half, scoring 18 points after halftime while leading his team to a come-from-behind victory:
Howard had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but it just wasn't his night.
Howard managed 21 points despite 1-of-15 shooting, thanks to 18-of-24 shooting from the line. Sam Hauser led the Golden Eagles with 22 points. Powell finished the game with 22 points for the Pirates.
Emotions ran high midway through the second half as the battle intensified. Three players, Seton Hall's Sandro Mamukelashvili and Marquette's Theo John and Sacar Anim, were ejected after an on-court skirmish at the 12:48 mark.
Seton Hall (20-12) advances to take on Villanova in the Big East title game on Saturday night after beating Marquette (24-9) for the second time in nine days.